Archive for ‘Nature Notes’

Carambola

My neighbors have a heavily-laden Star Fruit (Averrhoa carambola) tree. Luckily for me, they generously giveaway the extras on a little table out by the curb. As you know, I’m not one to pass up something for free, especially when it’s so delicious!

If you haven’t tried one yet, I highly recommend doing so (if you can find them – perhaps look at an Asian market). The unripe fruit still has a greenish tint to it and makes an excellent garnish for cocktails or entrees (though it will be quite tart and lemony). Fully ripened, the fruit has the texture of a juicy pear (yes, you eat the skin) and tastes like a cross between a banana and a mild apple.

Unfortunately, the Carambola resembles a banana in that it has a relatively short shelf life, once brown spots appear on the fruit it becomes a flavorless mass of goo.

I did just find a couple Star Fruit recipes that sound delightful. Since their tree still has loads of fruit they’ll be worth a try, I’ll keep you posted.

Feeder Antics

I recently added another bird feeder to my yard. This one I placed up front near a bird bath with a small solar fountain. The new addition was discovered immediately by my neighborhood birds (unlike the one in the backyard which took them several months to find).

While I have several species that frequent the feeder (Blue Jay, Northern Mockingbird, American Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, Common Grackle, Mourning Dove, Eurasian Collared-Dove, and Eurasian Starling) all of them cede the space when the flock of Nanday Parakeets (Aratinga nenday) arrive.

I view their afternoon arrival with mixed emotions. On the one hand, I enjoy watching these noisy and colorful, medium-sized parrots. On the other, I know my feeders will soon be empty.

Originally from central South America, the birds were brought to Florida for the pet trade. The first ones were noted living outside in St. Petersburg in 1969. They have since established breeding colonies and are now found across the south-central part of the state. Though the 1992 Wild Bird Act prohibits importation of this tropical species (along with many others) its reproductive success means that it will remain one of Florida’s 195 non-native bird species for many years to come.

A Wonderful Bird…

Brown Pelican, Oceanside, California December 2015

Two years ago this month the Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) became the official bird of St. Petersburg, Florida. The action was long overdue, since the large avian had been used as a mascot for the city for close to 100 years.

I am fortunate to be able to watch their aerial stunts year-round from my favorite perch at nearby John’s Pass (the channel between the Gulf of Mexico and Boca Ciega Bay).

I see their larger cousins, American White Pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) less often as they are true snowbirds, spending their winters on our balmy barrier islands before returning north in the Spring.

The adult males are especially eye-catching this time of year as breeding season begins. I need to take my camera out and try to get some good shots of them, until then this older photo I took in California will suffice.

Without fail, every time I see them I think of this limerick:

A wonderful bird is the pelican,

His bill will hold more than his belican,

He can take in his beak,

Enough food for a week,

But I’m damned if I see how the helican!

Dixon Lanier Merritt

Sweet Reminder

I grew up in the Sonoran Desert surrounded by the fragrant puffballs of the Sweet Acacia (Vachellia farnesiana). Not only do bees and butterflies love the flowers but birds favor the thorny, tangled branches for nesting, and lots of animals dine on the seed pods.

As you can imagine, I was pleasantly surprised to find that this small tree is native here as well. The one I planted in my yard this past spring just started blooming and while not as showy as some of the other plants around here, it certainly makes me smile.

Lucky Nut?

I came across this Lucky Nut, Thevetia peruviana, while touring the holiday light display at the Florida Botanical Gardens earlier this week. While I was certainly intrigued by the large nut’s unique shape, I could find no information about what makes it lucky.

In fact, to use a quote from my all-time favorite movie, The Princess Bride, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” To the best of my knowledge, every part of this oleander relative is completely unlucky since it is toxic.

Moonflower

Moonflower (Ipomoea alba) is a unique member of the morning glory family in that it blooms at night. The white flowers are about 5 inches across and they almost seem to glow in the moonlight. That large size combined with their appealing aroma helps attract nocturnal pollinators.

Native to Florida the vine also sports showy, heart-shaped leaves. I’d love to have one in my yard but I don’t have anywhere for it to grow, they need support and can reach 40′ in length. The flower I photographed was on a vine that was at least that long since it had grown up and over a telephone pole. What a beaut!

Sea Grapes

Discovered this chunk of green alga on my beach a couple weeks back. Its diminutive size and odd shapes warranted a photo, if only so I could identify it. That process took longer than it should have but, as usual, I learned something new.

Meet the Sea Grape (Caulerpa racemosa), an edible seaweed that favors shallow seas around the world. In some areas it is considered invasive, though this is the first time I’ve encountered it around here.

Since they are nutrient rich I suppose we should all eat up!

A Moveable Feast

While we were wandering Perico Preserve last weekend, the tide changed. As the water started flowing back into the bay, the fish began to feed. In this video there are several species of fingerlings nibbling on an algae ball as it is rolled along by the current. Sorry about the noise, low-flying aircraft.

The mullet in the video below emerged from the deeper part of the bay and crammed into the shallow, narrow neck of this inlet. Talk about an easy meal, all they had to do was open their mouths and the nutrient rich water flowed in!

Meet the Ancient Coontie

The sunny afternoon weather was perfect for a stroll around Perico Preserve last weekend. The bright red fruit of this smallish plant caught our attention. After a bit of research I discovered the origin of its local name, Coontie (Zamia integrifolia).

The Seminole people, who called it conti hateka (for white root or white bread), utilized the starch from the stem and root of the plant to make a type of bread. They had to harvest this resource carefully as it contains cycasin, a known neurotoxin.

Also commonly called Florida Arrowroot and Wild Sago, it is the only cycad native to North America. Often mistaken for a fern or even a palm, it is found throughout Florida, southern Georgia, and the Caribbean. As a gymnosperm it is one of the oldest plant forms, with fossils dating back 280 million years.

What a fun little find!